Adam Scorgie had plans for the latter stages of May: He was scheduled to hit up Manhattan Beach, California, with his good friend, Derek Boogaard.
Those plans got canceled on May, 13 when Boogaard was found dead in his Minneapolis apartment.
The demise of the NHL enforcer saddened the hockey world. As the summer progressed, the clouds darkened even more for the puck community.
On Aug. 15, Rick Rypien died in Crowsnest Pass, Alta. Weeks later, Wade Belak’s death concluded a tragic summer for NHL tough guys.
On each account, the shocking news triggered more questions than answers. Speculation had some completely questioning the role of the enforcers. Others shrugged it off as a coincidence. Regardless, everyone was, and still is, confused.
“Boogaard’s death really affected me a lot,” said Scorgie.
“Everyone’s jumping to the head shots and fighting right away. I don’t think it’s the fighting: It’s the stress of performing that weighs on these guys more.”
Scorgie is a Kelowna producer and co-creator of The Union, a successful documentary that analyzed the marijuana industry in B.C. Ice Guardians, his newest film, looks at the role of NHL tough guys.
“The angle with Ice Guardians has always been just to tell these guys’ stories. It’s never been to promote fighting or to go against it either. Coming from the players’ mouths, none of them think that it’s ever been covered correctly on film.”
Boogaard was slated to be one of the enforcers featured on Ice Guardians. Through conversations with Boogaard, Scorgie quickly learned that the mental aspect of being tough took more out of Derek than the physical altercations.
“The thing that bothered him more than his concussion was when the Rangers told him to take the rest of the year off with pay.”
Boogaard had recovered from a concussion and was hoping to get back in the lineup just before he was told he would be sitting out for the rest of the year. According to Scorgie, he didn’t want the vacation: He wanted to prove that he was worth the $1.6 million he was earning each year.
“Fans are brutal in New York. There were comments like: ‘Why are we paying this guy? He’s a bum.’ That was bugging (Boogaard) more than anything.
“I talked to Boogy almost every week,” Scorgie said. “The main thing that I got from all of his messages was that he was really pissed that he wasn’t getting to play. He was lonely in New York.”
Georges Laraque, a former physical threat in the NHL, recently wrote an article in the Globe and Mail about his experience as a fighter. He said that the life of an enforcer is not what it seems. He mentioned that it was tough to enjoy time with his family because he would constantly fret about a potential fight he might be in the following evening.
If Laraque—a fighter who rarely lost on-ice battles—was constantly worried about his role, theories could be made how less-skilled fighters may feel.
One suggestion Laraque makes is to form a committee of former players who have fought in the NHL for a living. He said he feels that this would allow today’s enforcers, who may be struggling with anxiety, to have someone to talk to who understands what they’re going through.
Scorgie agrees with Laraque’s suggestion. He said that his own experience as a combatant in sports taught him that the enforcer role creates a game within a game.
“You can’t just play the game normally because you’re thinking: ‘If shit hits the fan, I have to deal with another really tough guy.’”
Scorgie said that many fighters in the NHL never dreamt that they would be in that role; rather, most wanted to be like the skilled Joe Sakic or Wayne Gretzky.
“There comes that definitive time in their career where people are saying, ‘You’re playing with the best but you’re not even a third or fourth liner. But you’re passionate.’ They see that these guys are willing to do whatever it takes.
“That’s what made me fall in love with enforcers. These guys are willing to do whatever it takes to make their dream come true. They want to make it so bad that they’re willing to sacrifice their body and deal with the consequence later.
“That’s the story that I’ve always wanted to show.”
Scorgie hopes to get the chance to tell that story as soon as possible. If there was ever a time it needed to be heard, it’s right now.
“Two weeks ago we had an unbelievable meeting with (NHL programming) vice-president Charles Coplin. He loved the (movie) demo; he wanted to move forward. We were looking at putting the budget together and going with production in the fall.
“I think now, more than ever, these guys’ story needs to be told. And told correctly.”